Column: How Jessica Ennis-HIll conquered the world

Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster
Rt Rev Geoff Pearson, Bishop of Lancaster

Only 5ft 5ins tall she was told she was too short for the heptathlon; verbally bullied as a child and the victim of a racist epithet one day at school.  How on earth did Jessica Ennis-Hill become such a world and Olympic champion?

The pre-tournament text message from her mother always stayed the same: ‘Don’t let those big girls push you around’ … and in the heptathlon there are some Amazon-like competitors!

Acutely aware of body image issues among young girls, Ennis-Hill had to face the UK Athletic head coach questioning whether she could be lighter but she has shown thousands of teenage girls that size doesn’t matter.

What critics never saw was the inner Jess with a spine of Sheffield steel and a determination to be a world champion athlete.

All this was in the news as I was preparing some notes on the Old Testament for a group of men asking questions about this first part of the Bible. And I came across that wonderful story in the first book of Samuel which reminds us how God assesses us and how wrong we can be when we judge by outward appearance.

The prophet Samuel is sent to the house of Jesse to anoint a new king, whereupon Jesse presents his seven sons to Samuel. The first one, Eliab, looks like he could win any athletic competition.

Samuel thinks this must surely be the one. But God told Samuel: ‘Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him.’

God judges people differently from the way humans do: ‘Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.’

None of the seven sons is God’s anointed. It looks like Samuel has made a mistake. Then he asks Jesse: “No more sons?”

The response? ‘Well, there’s the runt but he is out tending the sheep.’ When David is brought before Samuel, it is clear that this is the one.

So begins the journey of a young, inexperienced youth who defeats Goliath and goes on to be a great King. There are parallels with Jessica Ennis-Hill and a gentle reminder not to look just on the outside.